Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died on Monday, with his official cause of death listed as ALS. He was 57.
“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement Tuesday. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”
Hillenburg revealed he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease — last March, saying in a statement at the time that he would continue to work on the animated series, “for a long as I am able.”
ALS causes the death of neurons that control voluntary muscles. There is no known cure for the disease.
A former marine biology teacher, Hillenburg began his career at Nickelodeon in 1993 as a director and writer on the animated series “Rocko’s Modern Life.”
In addition to launching the Nickelodeon series “SpongeBob SquarePants” in 1999, Hillenburg also wrote, produced and directed 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and wrote the story for and was the executive producer of the sequel “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” released in 2015.
He is survived by his wife of twenty years, Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg (nee Dufour) and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, his wife Isabel and nieces Emma and Hazel.